MELBOURNE: Nico Rosberg capitalized on a slow start off pole by world champion team-mate Lewis Hamilton and superior tire strategy over Ferrari to win the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday.
The German won his fourth straight grand prix and 15th overall after stringing together the final three races of 2015 to beat his Mercedes rival Hamilton by eight seconds.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who led off the grid and was faster than the Mercedes pair on his super soft tires before needing a tire change on lap 36, was third.
It was an incident-packed race with McLaren’s double world champion Fernando Alonso walking away from a horrifying high-speed crash and Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari catching fire in the pit lane.
The dominant German team has now won 33 of the last 39 races and it was a sweet triumph for Rosberg, who has trailed Hamilton in the drivers’ standings for the past two seasons.
“The strategy was crucial today and I am truly thankful to the team and there was a tire choice on the red flag and I was happy to follow up with the mediums,” Rosberg said.
“It’s early days but it’s the perfect start. We have to keep an eye on the red guys [Ferrari],” he added.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo was fourth in his Red Bull, with Brazilian Felipe Massa fifth in a Williams and Romain Grosjean sixth for the newcomers Haas.
Hamilton, who had led every practice and qualifying session for the first race, was slowly away allowing Vettel to dart through a narrow opening between both Mercedes to beat them to first turn.
Rosberg locked up on the inside of the first corner, forcing Hamilton to back off and allow Raikkonen to pass them both on the exit to the sharp right-hander.
Hamilton’s loss of momentum cost him two more places to Max Verstappen and Massa.
“I loved the fact we had to come from far behind. I’ve had much worse in the first race and I’ll take it as a real bonus to come back from seventh,” Hamilton said.
Alonso had a heart-stopping moment on lap 17 and was fortunate not to be seriously injured in a spectacular shunt with Esteban Gutierrez in a Haas approaching turn three.
Alonso’s McLaren veered into the wall and went into a series of violent rolls before it flew through the gravel trap and slammed into another barrier disintegrating upon impact.
The twice former world champion was shaken but unharmed and quickly clambered out of the barely recognizable wreckage.